Red Rain by Lara Bernhardt is an exceptional book. Not only is it extremely well-written, but it also deals with important themes – dealing with grief following the lost of a baby, the crushing effect relationships with a controlling partner have on women, and most of all, the issue of women in rural India (and other third world countries) not having access to affordable menstruation pads.
After a divorce Olivia leaves her home in the US to travel to India to volunteer at an English language school in rural India. Travelling to escape her grief and hopefully to find some direction for her presently empty life. She falls in love with the children in her classes and is shocked to discover the girls leaving and never returning once they get their periods. Though she can’t change the cultural attitudes to women, she can do something about the practical issue that means women can’t risk leaving home at ‘their time of the month’ – a lack of quality and affordable personal hygene products.
A chance meeting at a market leads her to meet the inventor of a pad-making machine, an Indian man who faced ridicule for his committment to helping his wife and mother with this problem. After perservering against the odds, he invented a machine that allowed women create a business producing and selling pads. Giving one to the village is a nice idea, but it’s not as easy as it might seem. Olivia faces much opposition and struggles to find women to work the machine in a society where women are ashamed of their bodies’ natural functions and discussion of anything to do with ‘women’s business’ is taboo.
Set against a vibrant description of life in rural India, the story also follows Olivia’s personal healing and development from a woman full of self-doubt to one willing to follow the strength of her convictions. The message is clear: With enough determination, one person can make a difference.
The pad making machine is real and at the end is a link to thepadproject.org where people can contribute to improving the lives of women in similar circumstances. Their slogan is “A period should end a sentence,
not a girl’s education.”
Red Rain by Lara Bernhardt is not only a terrific, moving read with deep characterisation that keeps you turning pages, it also shows us Western women how much of the freedom we take for granted is due to the availability and affordability of modern sanitary products.
A couple of quotes to show the high standard of the writing:
“Ms. Vanya and Navya each placed a hand on her and lowered their heads. They didn’t say anything, and they didn’t need to. What could they say in the face of such horrific grief? There were no words, and their silent sympathy expressed an inherent understanding.”
“And if she hadn’t been raised in that toxic environment, would she have married Scott? Would she have been blind to the insidious control he exerted over her, as Tisha had pointed out? She didn’t want to believe she’d married an abuser, as determined as she’d been to find a loving man and enjoy a happy marriage. Over and over, she’d told herself she would not repeat her mother’s mistakes. Scott didn’t hurt her physically, but he’d squashed everything that was her. And she’d let him.”
I received an advance review copy for free from Book Sirens, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.
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